One iconic moment that stands out in my memory of Gwen Stefani is her video performance with No Doubt of the song “Don’t Speak”. It features the band practicing alone together, Gwen looking like a quirky little girl who borrowed her mama’s church dress, dancing around in red lipstick and bare feet, juxtaposed with scenes of them live in concert. In the latter scenes she is rocking out, her whole body contorting, soaked and glistening with sweat from head to toe. When she lifted herself off the stage in a pushup and swept the audience with a warrior-fierce gaze, it gave me chills. I recognized at that moment that this girl was a force to be reckoned with.
It’s hard to believe that was 13 years ago. At the time, Gwen was recovering from her breakup with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal and the resultant music was some of the most deeply personal and cathartic that I recall her ever writing.
It’s interesting that her new album This Is What The Truth Feels Like brings her back to those same confessional pathways: lost love, betrayal, deceit, loneliness, finding yourself again, and the first tender, wary sparks of hope and new love.
I can’t think of a more painfully public breakup, with every moment captured, reported and available (with photos!) at your local news stand. But in case you’ve been in Borneo for the last year or simply eschewing the gossip columns, the tale goes like this: Popstar girl meets poprockstar boy (Gavin Rossdale of Bush fame), they fall madly in love, marry and have the cutest, best dressed little hipster kids you could imagine. Enter the nanny. Er, which is exactly what Gavin did, repeatedly. Bye bye washed up nineties rocker dude! But what’s this? Oh! Hello new singer boy love interest Blake Shelton.
And that’s where The Truth comes in. You get the impression that Stefani felt like she was living a lie for quite some time, and is just relieved now to stop pretending. This is obvious in tracks like “Me Without You” where she sings “No I don’t need you, not a little bit. To myself I finally admitted it. Get rid of it.” Where her younger self bled rawly with the newness of heartache, I feel like the more mature Gwen has handled having her world shaken more pragmatically.
She seems a little unsure of herself at moments, such as in the stand-out track “Asking 4 It” (with the smart choice of Fetty Wap as a featured guest artist). But though she starts out questioning why a guy would want to be with her, she ends it with the sassy tease of “You’re asking for it. I dare you.”
Other songs show her gratitude for her newly blossoming love and a few even get a little naughty, like the modern-day ode to sexting and Snapchat “Send Me A Picture”, which manages to capture the fun and urgency of trading dirty photos with your lover as a form of foreplay.
The sound here isn’t as bold or experimental as some of her other albums. It’s more straight-up, mid-to-slow tempo pop with not a lot of innovation. It works, though, with some catchy choruses and her Betty Boop-ish vocals saving her from mediocrity.
I think what is really missing for me is a little more fire. I’d love to see her unleash some of the anger she must have felt at being betrayed. Just one scorch-the-earth song to let me know that the warrior goddess I once fell in love with, possessed and writhing like a wild creature on stage, is still in there somewhere, waiting to slice through me with her gaze.
For more info on Gwen Stefani, check out her website and social media:
- Official Gwen Stefani website: https://www.gwenstefani.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/gwenstefani
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gwenstefani
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/GwenStefaniVEVO
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gwenstefani/